Backe’s curious decision to move McCarty (and how it could cost RBNY the playoffs)

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When the New York Red Bulls welcomed back a handful of key players from injury recently, it meant that one of Major League Soccer's most talented rosters was back to full strength and head coach Hans Backe would have a plethora of options at his disposal as he tried building the best possible squad to make a title run.

As we have now learned, sometimes having too many options can be a bad thing.

This certainly seems to be the case with the Red Bulls based on Hans Backe's inexplicable decision to take his most consistent player this season and move into a position that simply isn't one that plays to his strengths.

Dax McCarty has been one of the league's pleasant surprises in 2012. He made the Red Bulls midfield his own amid long-term injuries to veteran options like Teemu Tainio and Rafa Marquez. The consensus around the league is that McCarty's energy and skill have helped anchor New York's midfield for the better part of the season.

He has done this all from the middle of the park. That still didn't stop Backe from deciding, upon the recent return of Tainio and Marquez, that the Red Bulls would be best served by moving McCarty to a role as a right winger.

The move seemed to pay off three weeks ago against the Columbus Crew, when McCarty scored a goal and did an effective job of pinching into the middle, where his natural instincts led him to go, but in New York's past two matches it has become increasingly clear that not only has McCarty's move to the right wing rendered him ineffective, but also Tainio and Marquez have been unable to replace his work rate or stable presence in the Red Bulls' central midfield.

On some level you can see what Backe was thinking when he made the move. Putting McCarty, Tainio and Marquez on the field together should, in theory, help the team control possession. That theory doesn't really work in practice because Tainio and Marquez just don't look capable of keeping up with good central midfields and because McCarty simply isn't a winger.

Perhaps McCarty is a victim of his own success, having played so well throughout the year (he's the team's MVP if not for that Thierry Henry guy) that maybe he actually convinced Backe that he was capable of being a threat on the wing. Here's the thing. He can't. McCarty isn't particularly fast (not by the standards of a quality wide player) and asking him to take people on is about as realistic as asking him to go to the beach and get a tan.

All you have to do is watch McCarty playing on the wing to realize he is uncomfortable at the position and unclear on what exactly to do. At times you can see him stopping himself from joining the battle in central midfield, only to return to the wing where he is rendered relatively invisible.

This shift in personnel has some around the league scratching their heads, like folks at Sporting Kansas City who privately stated that moving McCarty clearly made New York's midfield worse (a statement that came after KC dominated the Red Bulls on their way to handing New York their first home loss of the season). I brought up the McCarty position change to a D.C. United player after their recent win against Philadelphia. That player's response? "Why the hell would they do that?"

Aside from the fact that McCarty isn't a true winger, the Red Bulls roster actually has players capable of manning the right flank. Whether it is Jan Gunnar Solli, Sebastien LeToux, Lloyd Sam or even Connor Lade, the Red Bulls have players with the traits to be more of a threat on the right wing than McCarty, who would probably list right winger pretty far down on his list of positions he is capable of playing (likely just above goalkeeper).

Backe needs to realize the error of his ways ASAP because New York's playoff positioning will depend on it. The sooner he accepts that Tainio simply doesn't have the legs anymore to be a drivin force in the middle, and the sooner he accepts that there is no better player on his roster to anchor the central midfield than McCarty, the sooner the Red Bulls can stabilize and start playing up to their potential.

The Red Bulls may have lucked out in that an injury might force Backe's hand. Rafa Marquez tweaked a hamstring against New England, and if he can't go against Toronto FC on Saturday, Backe will have no choice but to return McCarty to the middle of the park.

It is tough to tell what it will take to make Backe realize that, for all the lineup decisions he has to make (where to play Connor Lade, what to do with slumping Kenny Cooper and where to play Sebastien LeToux among them), where to put Dax McCarty should be one of the easiest decisions he ever has to make. If he doesn't it figure it out quickly, it just might wind up costing the Red Bulls a prime Eastern Conference playoff position, if not the playoffs altogether.

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64 Responses to Backe’s curious decision to move McCarty (and how it could cost RBNY the playoffs)

  1. Vic says:

    Agreed. McCarty is having an amazing season but he’s not a winger. Marquez needs to sit and Red Bulls need to play with some wingers(Solli, Sam and Miller).

  2. KevDC says:

    I think it’s a great move.


    Ben Olsen

  3. Brain Guy says:

    Every RBNY fan should cut-and-paste this piece and send it to the club. It’s one thing to make adjustments based on injuries, etc., but Backe’s annoying tendency to tinker with his lineup and formation in response to countless other factors, real and imagined — the other team’s strengths, home versus away, phase of the moon — has finally reached the level of ridiculous. Given Rafa’s his salary and “Thierry Henry Loves Me” T-shirt, it may be that Backe’s hand was forced on the decision to play Marquez, but inserting Tainio and moving McCarty — plus moving Cahill out of the midfield — simply defy reason. You’ve got your two best midfielders playing out of position, and no speed at right wing (and, if Lindpere is there, little speed at left wing). RBNY expended serious resources to add depth at the striker position, and now, more often than not, both of those new strikers (including the team’s leading scorer) ride the bench. And don’t get me started about asking Conde to play LB for the first time in his career.

  4. biff says:

    Off topic, but….

    St. Pauli Alert!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Joe Gyau subbed in at start of second half for his first appearance with St. Pauli against VfR Aalen. Aalen up 1-0 now in the 62nd minute, and Gyau has definitely added some bite to the St. Pauli offense. After six games and only six points, a must win for St. Pauli. Fans are getting nervous and some already are calling for Coach Andre Schubert to be fired.

  5. Chris says:

    It’s painfully clear what the best lineup is for this team, and yet this seems to escape Backe. Henry and Cooper need to be starting up top. We are at our best when both those guys are threatening. Slump or not Cooper needs to be on the field. The wings can be manned by Lindpere, Solli, Lade, and/or Barklage. All are excellent choices. DAX IS THE DMID. Pure and simple. It’s as easy a choice as playing Cahill at CAM. Lade and Barklage should be manning those outside back roles. They have the speed, pure defending skill, and energy to bomb up the wing and track back during turnovers. That leaves Conde and Pearce to man CB. A duo any MLS team would be happy with. Rafa simply can’t be used anywhere on the field unless he goes to CB. That means that the stone staute (Holgersson) and one of Conde or Pearce would have to sit. Simply put Red Bull fans do not want to see Statue, Rafa, Tainio or Miller on the field (as starters, they are EXCELLENT bench options).


    All the pieces are there. Backe just has to stop being so devoted to “his guys” in Rafa, Tainio, Statue. Those guys have all been outplayed badly by their counterparts.

  6. PJM says:

    maybe backe took notes from klinsman’s lineup in jamaica ;-D

  7. RLW2020 says:

    thats some expensive bench players. I wouldn’t be surprised if thats the issue here…

  8. Nate Dollars says:

    “…asking him to take people on is about as realistic as asking him to go to the beach and get a tan.”

    nicely done.

  9. Dainja says:

    AAAAAAAAA-MEN!!! Tainio is done. He should be kept around for depth, and not starting. I slightly begrudingly admit that Marquez might need to start (UGH), but not Tainio and not at the expense of Dax playing in the middle. I think a good compromise lineup is this: 4-4-1-1

    Lindpere ——Solli
    —-Rafa –Dax—
    Lade Conde Parce Bark

    first off the bench: Cooper, LeToux (he has been supbar) and Tainio/Sam depending on if we are behind or not.

  10. Brain Guy says:

    I’m glad you corrected my failure to mention Backe’s attachment to his countryman Holgersson. I shudder whenever he has the ball at his feet. I think your lineup is great.

  11. Nate Dollars says:

    where can I get one of these “Thierry Henry Loves Me” shirts?

  12. Dave from Charlotte says:

    Three random things in random order:

    1) Rafa is a bum (2nd time I’ve made this comment, and I stick by it). At a minimum, he is made from glass.

    2) Another great opinion piece, thanks!

    3) Why all the hate towards gingers? You might offend The Lalas! “… and asking him to take people on is about as realistic as asking him to go to the beach and get a tan.”

  13. Tony in Quakeland says:

    I’m beginning to think that Backe works for Al Queda

  14. Vic says:

    Rafa cannot be on the bench. The players there are not at his level.

  15. Chris says:

    It’s infuriating! I mean the lineup basically writes itself!

    If Rafa MUST play by directive of the higher Red Bulls up in Austria then play him at CB. Otherwise stick with the guys who have ACTUALLY gotten it done for you this season. Namely: Henry, Cooper, Cahill, Lindpere, Dax, Solli, Lade, Barklage, Conde, Pearce, and Gaudette.

  16. Kr says:

    I thought it was going to say Dax will be the next goalie.

  17. 19561 says:

    Ives – great opinion piece.
    I love hearing the other teams opinion.

  18. georkt says:

    I’ve been staring at this article for about 5 minutes and I can’t come up with a reason why the coaching staff hasn’t figured this out already. A big thanks to Ives for pointing out what we season ticket holders have been thinking every time McCarty has been moved to the wing. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

  19. Conrad says:

    In the cameo he had against SKC, Sam looked really good. Like…he attacked defenders! I haven’t seen a player wearing a RBNY jersey do that since Agudelo left.

    Lindpere, God bless him, runs like he’s wearing scuba flippers.

    Gaudette is just a redneck Bouna Condoul without the reflex saves.

    I want to like this team, I swear. But it’s hard sometimes….

  20. AcidBurn says:

    +1. Everyone should copy this comment and send it to Backe.

    Here’s another question – Barklage had his name written in stone in the right back position, he goes out injured, and then Backe somehow seems to forget he’s on the roster.

    Backe will trot out his traffic cones (Rafa, Statue, and Tainio) in the playoffs where they will get run off the field. *sigh*…that’s so metro.

  21. fortunate only says:

    “The consensus around the league is that McCarty’s energy and skill have helped anchor New York’s midfield for the better part of the season.”


    Dax has plenty of heart and hustle but I’m quite sure those don’t qualify as “skill”.

    His distribution is poor, he can’t dribble his way out of trouble and he is unable to effectively combine with the attackers.

    Sure, he’s a great destroyer but I’d rather have Lindpere or Rafa next to Cahill.

  22. Chris says:

    Cahill is supposed to create scoring chances along with the wingers and strikers. That isn’t Dax’s job. His job is to break up plays and protect the backline, and he’s been doing a great job of it all season.

  23. fortunate only says:

    Rafa plays because even at this stage, he offers morea offensive ideas than the majority of the other options.

    Even a guy like Chepo de la Torre had Rafa in his starting lineup.

    Problem is Rafa’s health is a huge question mark and he hasn’t been consistent.

  24. mike says:

    on a peripheral note…have y’all seen this vid put out by the dutch league on altidore? good laugh.
    link to

  25. john says:

    Hans Backe is a horrible coach.

  26. Mark says:

    I’m all about the 4-3-3 optiom with the weapons we have


  27. bryan says:

    well Rafa is out the next 2 weeks with another injury. so there’s that…

  28. Brain Guy says:

    Marque and Tainio get hurt and when they heal they’re right back in the starting lineup, disrupting an effective lineup.

    Barklage gets hurt and when he heals he gets put in the witness protection program.

    Someone tell Backe it’s not 2010 or 2011 anymore. There are more effective replacements for Tainio and Lindpere.

  29. bryan says:

    lol nice

  30. Aguinaga says:

    Sad to me how many people hailed Backe’s arrival after the Juan Carlos Osorio experience as the coach with the European pedigree we needed to coach European players, and here’s Backe doing the same thing Osorio was doing – playing guys away from their natural positions, outhinking only himself, and occasionally winning despite it.

  31. BDR says:

    You used the word *plethora.” Yellow card.

  32. TomG says:

    I agree, the players there are at a much HIGHER level than Rafa in terms of consistency, focus, discipline and work rate. Rafa should play… for another team.

  33. T5O says:

    Simple solution. #firebacke Should have been done after last year. Any fight and spirit on the field comes from the players and leaders on the field and not anything this coach has done.

  34. TomG says:

    Thanks Mike. So good.

  35. john.q says:

    worldwide conspiracy against gingers. believe it.

  36. TomG says:

    Thanks Ives. Not much else to say. Backe’s indecision and inconsistency continue to plague this franchise. This is reflected also in the management situation as a proven MLS winner, Bruce Arena somehow gets let go after only a little over a year yet Backe gets 3 (at least)? It really grates to see Bruce create a juggernaut in LA when it could have been in NY. “Stupid, nonsensical, foolhardy, arbitrary.”

    “What are most of the decision made by NYRB management?”

  37. James says:

    It is called racism.

  38. Tim F. says:

    100% agree with this; I have been saying this for the past several weeks.

    The best 11 are: Henry, Cooper, LeToux, Cahill, McCarty, Lindpere, Pearce, Conde, Barklage, Holgerson, Gaudette

    Best option off the bench: 1. Lade, 2. Sam, 3. Solli, 4. Marquez, 5. Tainio, 6. Digao or Keel or Miller and 7. Robles. Consider Hertzog if one of the field players are not ready to play.

    Barklage has not seen the field in such a long time he may need some time to play at top form so need to consider Lade as well.

  39. James says:

    Like I said above. It is called racism.

  40. David JS says:

    haha that just made my day, thanks for that mike

  41. 99 says:

    even more nicely done.

  42. Jesse says:

    McCarty is a pit bull. He’s good at being everywhere, making some quick decisions, delivering passes, and being really gritty. But, he’s not good at orchestrating an offense with Henry up front- he just isn’t- and truly he is not a good offensive distributor. He is inconsistent offensively in general. He is great at getting out of tricky situations and making relief passes consistently. But Red Bulls need a guy who can distribute like Marquez once could, and rarely does now. That’s why McCarty gets moved around, as Backe hopes for somebody else to be able to do those things.

  43. Chris says:

    That’s why they got Cahill.

  44. DC will win the East says:

    Yo’re all wasting yor breath talking about this.

  45. gtr says:

    Sadly, Tainio serviceable days are behind him. Before his injury, he was a very effective defensive mid. Despite comments you may have read on this board, I never felt that he was a great passer.

    Rafa is a very good passer, but he is no longer much of a defensive midfielder (doesn’t have the speed to keep up, and often loses the ball on the dribble). He is a serviceable center back.

    Dax is a good (not great, but good) passer. He provides capable link up play. He also does a very good job of plugging up the middle.

    So, Dax should be our starter.

    Only Cahill is capable of playing the attacking mid spot.
    Since we have better winger options, Rafa and Tainio both have to sit – that’s all there is to it.

  46. Eugene says:

    At this point, the squad is strong, but Backe is holding back progress. I think this could be a championship team with another coach, such as Steve Nicol.

  47. gtr says:

    Miller on the wing??

  48. Chan says:

    I agree with this. I would be willing to see the same players back next year if there was another coach. Backe seems to find new ways to break what does not need fixing.

  49. Ceez says:

    So? It’s an opinion piece with opinionated comments. Let us be.

    Said many times before and I’ll say it again: I CAN’T WAIT to see Backe go! Clueless!

  50. Ceez says:

    Jesse must’ve missed that part. It’s only been 2 months.

  51. DC will win the East says:

    i think the comment went over yor head.

  52. PetedeLA says:

    Thanks for the info. Sankt Pauli!!!!

  53. Allegre says:

    Absolutely f’n true. Barklage played class, got hurt, and now is nowhere to be found. We’ve got no speed on the right wing so Henry is sandwiched all game long between the CBs. Clogging up the middle hasn’t worked to limit our porous D.

  54. Thatpageguy says:

    First, I gotta say how brilliant Ives is because he and I are almost always in agreement. I first saw McCarty playing for a US youth international team–U17 or U20, can’t remember which. He was always one of the best players on the pitch and it is good to see him perform so well this season. I think he deserves a look see from Klinsmann. He used to be a playmaker from the middle and did that job well. Now he is outstanding in defense. Both of these talents are wasted if he is on the wing. Ives is 100% right on the money. Since I’m mostly a Galaxy fan, hope Backe continues to make such mistakes during the playoffs, but it is too bad that McCarty’s talents are being wasted and he is, in effect, being held back in his development.

  55. Sabella says:

    This article is spot on and also annoyingly obvious…….except to Backe.

  56. felipe says:

    I used to despise Dax when he was with opponents as unimaginative and whiny. Now, as a NYRB, I have begrudgingly come to appreciate Dax and what he brings to a team. From my view, he embodies the best (heart, hustle, never quit) of American born players as well as the worst (poor touch, unimaginative)

  57. Juan from LA says:

    Still don’t get why you guys still up with this incompetent old hag…worst coach ever to come to MLS (IMHO)…

  58. Samson says:

    There are certain matchups to play Dax centrally with Cahill up top.

    With Rafa out as usual, he will get his fair share of minutes in the middle with KFC up top.

    I don’t see the fuss here

  59. Scott A says:

    Yes. Yes, he is.

  60. enzorules says:

    Backe is an idiot . do i need to say anything else ?

    RB one and done in the playoffs….AGAIN